Robot 6

The Middle Ground #53: Soaring Down The Charts

The top selling non-Marvel or DC comic in the direct market last month was The Walking Dead. No surprise there, perhaps; it’s a good book, and one buoyed by a successful television show, as well as an impressive bookstore campaign to draw in new readers. When it comes to non-Big Two books, it’s probably the one you’d expect to be leading the pack in terms of sales. No, the surprise is that, despite that, forty-seven other books managed to sell more copies last month.

Okay, it’s true; those forty-seven other books only definitely sold more copies to retailers, considering the Diamond charts are based on retailer sales, not customer sales. But still, am I the only one who’s surprised that something like Age of X Universe #2 or Green Arrow #11 managed to sell over a thousand more copies each? I shouldn’t be, of course; the weird stranglehold that DC and Marvel have over the direct market is long-known and just generally accepted these days, but it’s always been something that I’ve wondered about. Why is it there? Is the direct market really more about habit than anything else, about teaching fans to return for weekly doses of regular nostalgic thrills, than the quality of what’s on offer?

It’s melodramatic, I know, but consider this; after Walking Dead‘s appearance at #48 on the April chart, the next non-DC/Marvel book to appear is Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish at #91. In fact, only five books not published by Marvel or DC make it into the entire top 10 which, when you stop to think about it, is kind of stunning. Three of them come from Dark Horse (Two are Star Wars books), and only one – The Boys, from Dynamite – doesn’t have a movie or television show attached… and even that one started as a DC title.

If you think about the ratio of what is actually published – How many DC books to Image books, for example, or how many Marvel versus the sum total of everything non-Marvel and DC – the results seem almost ludicrous. How can those two companies consistently have more than 60% of the market between the two of them, when they’re not responsible for 60% of all the material published? Is it that the audience for non-Marvel and DC stuff is reading it elsewhere (The collections chart is always much more forgiving to other publishers, for example, or in places where the sales aren’t recorded by Diamond), or that the single issue market is really just an area where superhero books – and superhero books published by two particular publishers – will always be not only the dominant force, but so dominant a force? There’s something both depressing and curiously unbelievable about that idea, but I’m not sure how an alternative scenario can be created any time soon.

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4 Comments

The reason the sales charts are dominated by Big 2 titles is because mostly suckers buy floppies and mostly suckers buy only capes and tights.

Congratulations, Joe, that was a very reasonable and constructive comment.

OH, WAIT.

No easy response to Graeme’s post at all, though. Even when non-Marvel/DC books sell very well, they tend to be superhero-related (the recent Spawn anniversary issue, for example). I suspect it’s related to the desire to keep up with ongoing events (for superhero fans) and the inevitability of trade collections these days (for everyone else).

I don’t buy any new pamphlets at all, but even if I did I’m not sure why I’d buy indie books or mini-series in single issues given there’s no incentive as a reader to consume them serially rather than satisfying chunks. On a related note, I’ll never buy a single issue to help prevent a title from being canceled. Expecting customers to do that ignores the realities of the comics marketplace in 2011.

Speaking personally, I buy superhero comics as single issues because it feels “right”, like the historically true way of consuming the medium, even though so much has changed since the 1960′s. But indie comics (or even Vertigo titles) feel more like regular books in that there’s no tradition of single issues, so if I want to read them I just get them as trades. I think that’s generally the case, the trades appeal to a wider market than the single issues because they have more content, are more durable, and can be found in book stores. It’s mostly superhero fans who nostalgically hold on to single issues and stay a part of the comic shop culture that rose when superhero books were nearly all there was.

I think there’s a typo in the 3rd paragraph “In fact, only five books not published by Marvel or DC make it into the entire top 10 which,..” is that supposed to be top 100?

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